Founded in 1996, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is a national nonprofit organization focused on supporting the Palestinians in the Mideast conflict through targeted sanctions against Israel – designed to punish the Jewish state for its alleged human-rights violations. According to its mission statement, JVP is “inspired by Jewish tradition to work ... for peace, social justice, equality, human rights, [and] respect for international law.” Indispensable to the realization of these ideals, says JVP, is the group's primary objective: “an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem.” While claiming to support “security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians” alike, JVP aims the vast majority of its criticism at Israel. Impugning also the U.S. for the “critical role” it has played in the Arab-Israeli conflict over the years, JVP calls on America to "stop supporting repressive policies in Israel and elsewhere."
JVP was initially formed in the San Francisco Bay Area by University of California students Julia Caplan, Julie Iny, and Rachel Eisner in response to Israel's construction of an archaeological tunnel under the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The trio organized a rally outside the San Francisco Federal Building to protest that project. In subsequent years, they continued to stage small-scale awareness-building and fundraising campaigns. By 2010, JVP had established active chapters in eleven cities across the U.S. and claimed that an additional eight chapters were in development. The organization also claimed to have “over 90,000 supporters and members.”
While it was still locally based, JVP gained significant publicity in 2002 when some 200 of its activists blocked traffic in San Francisco while protesting alleged Israeli transgressions; sixteen people were arrested.
In 2005, JVP joined in the Presbyterian Church USA’s initiative to boycott Caterpillar, Inc. because that company’s equipment was being used by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to demolish the homes and weapon-storehouses of Palestinian terrorists – though JVP portrayed them as the homes of innocent civilians.
Viewing Israel as morally analogous to apartheid South Africa, JVP has launched an extensive divestment campaign designed to stop companies around the world from “[profiting] from the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.” In particular, JVP has targeted TIAA-CREF, a financial-services corporation that is invested in numerous companies whose business dealings with Israel are objectionable to JVP. Those companies include Caterpillar, Veolia, Northrop Grumman, Elbit, and Motorola. Through petitions, media attention, and consumer activism, JVP seeks to pressure TIAA-CREF to end its relationship with these offenders.
Other JVP divestment efforts have been directed at college campuses. Indeed, the organization supported successful divestment resolutions at both Hampshire College and Evergreen State College. A UC Berkeley divestment campaign, which JVP actively backed as well, was narrowly defeated in March 2010 when the president of the Associated Students of the University of California vetoed a resolution that was slated to target General Electric and United Technologies. JVP-backed divestment efforts at UC San Diego likewise failed.
In 2008 JVP helped the Carter Center gather signatures to support former President Jimmy Carter’s controversial meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Mash'al. Both JVP and Carter viewed Mash'al as a legitimate potential partner in the peace process with Israel, and urged Israeli officials to meet with him as well.
In 2009, JVP sparked controversy by co-sponsoring (with the American Friends Service Committee) a screening of the film Rachel at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The movie paid homage to Rachel Corrie, an International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist who had been accidentally run over and killed while trying to block an Israeli army bulldozer that was demolishing tunnels used by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza.
Over the years, JVP has worked with like-minded organizations such as Code Pink, the ISM, Tikkun (founded by Michael Lerner), and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Since 2009, JVP has joined a number of campaigns calling for the release of Palestinian activists Mohammad Othman, Jamal Juma, and Abdullah Abu Rahme from Israeli custody.
In 2010, JVP spoke out in support of the United Nations' Goldstone Report, describing it as a “well-researched [and] fair-minded” document that “accuses both Israel and Hamas of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, while rightfully placing greater emphasis on Israeli violations of international law, especially regarding the killing of civilians.”
That same year, JVP roundly condemned Israel's interception at sea of a Free Gaza Movement flotilla of supply-laden ships that sought -- without submitting their cargoes to inspection -- to dock in Gaza, whose seaport was under an Israeli blockade aimed at keeping arms shipments (from Iran and elsewhere) out of the region. JVP subsequently joined numerous other organizations in a project called “U.S. to Gaza,” whose objective was to dispatch yet another ship to try and "break" the Gaza blockade.
In pursuit of its anti-Israel agendas, JVP has created a significant Internet presence. In addition to its main website, which promotes divestment from Israel and encourages IDF soldiers to desert the military, JVP hosts a blog called "The Only Democracy?" -- whose purpose is to “questio[n] the very notion of Israel as ‘the only democracy’ in the Middle East.” JVP’s other blog, MuzzleWatch, claims to monitor attempts to “stifle open debate about U.S.-Israeli foreign policy.”
Former Sixties radical Mitchell Plitnick served as JVP's director of education and policy from 2003-2008 and was instrumental in the organization's expansion. As of 2010, the national director of JVP was Rebecca Vilkomerson, who had been an active member of the group since 2002. JVP’s advisory board includes such luminaries as Ed Asner, Noam Chomsky, Ronnie Gilbert, Naomi Klein, Tony Kushner, and Adrienne Rich. The late historian Howard Zinn was also a member. In addition, JVP has worked with Joel Beinin, Mark Levine, Robert Meeropol, and Michael Ratner.
JVP is a member organization of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition.